Artist: Derek Webb
Album: Stockholm Syndrome
Label: INO Records
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Review by: Eric Pettersson
- Opening Credits
- Black Eye
- Cobra Con
- Freddie, Please
- The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum
- What Matters More
- The State
- The Proverbial Gun
- I Love/Hate You
- Becoming a Slave
- Jenna and Jimmy
- What You Give Up to Get It
- American Flag Umbrella
Now that the initial shock effect has subsided and the controversy over Derek Webb’s use of strong language has cooled down a little bit, it is time to look into what Stockholm Syndrome, as a whole, has to say and how effectively it was communicated both lyrically and musically. As fans have come to expect over the years, Derek continues to speak his mind on pressing issues in the world around him and to do so over an ever-changing musical landscape.
The new album, Stockholm Syndrome, starts off with a drum and bass feel, signaling yet another significant change in Webb’s musical direction. The album is very electronic-based and often danceable, and it is a move that may help Webb break out of his niche market. His voice enters on the second track, “Black Eye” with a meandering jazzy singing style that fits well with the smooth, club-esque music (all in a respectably indie kind of way).
We really begin to get to the meat of this album with “Freddie, Please.” This slow ballad asks “How can you say you love me when you hate me” to a certain man who pickets funerals only to be told by Derek, “Freddie, can’t you see, brother, you’re the one who’s queer?” While Evangelicals today are almost unanimous in their condemnation of Fred Phelps’ use of the phrase “God hates fags” and his deplorable tactics in communicating this message, they also feel the need to always add the disclaimer that they basically agree with what he has to say, just not the way he’s saying it. Derek has no time to mess around with this compromise of the transformative power of the Gospel, saying Phelps would even picket Jesus’ grave for “loving the things you hate.” Jesus specifically went to the outcasts of society and loved them, and the Church must do the same, regardless of how much their lifestyle grosses us out. (And let’s be honest. Even though there are those eleven verses in the Bible saying homosexuality is sinful, how many Christians hide behind that when their primary reason for fighting it is just because they think it’s gross? My guess is it’s probably the majority if my youth group experience was at all typical of the Church in America today.)
Continuing in the vein of Mockingbird’s “New Law,” “The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum” is a first-person song that challenges a lot of the over-simplifying and short-cuts we take in our faith. The former ironically asked for a new law with a whole bunch of easy answers and simple-to-follow rules so that we no longer needed wisdom and discernment or the ability to listen to the Holy Spirit. The new track, a really upbeat song with fast drums and a grooving bass, says successively through each verse, “I don’t want the Spirit, I want a kick drum… I don’t want the Son, I want a jury of peers… I don’t want the Father, I want a vending machine.” How often do we have this attitude, wanting the benefits of God’s blessings without the difficulty of maintaining a true relationship with God? There are many similar parallels given in each verse, all repenting of our desire to gloss over or even cut out the more troublesome parts of Christianity.
I bought the digital “explicit” copy of this record, so my review will include “What Matters More,” the controversial song that didn’t make it onto the physical version sold in stores. This song adds to the reflection on the proper way for Christians to respond to homosexuality, and it seems that even beyond his use of the word “shit,” most people are actually just upset with Derek for being willing to stand up for gay people. He doesn’t really say one way or the other whether he thinks it is a sin, but this is irrelevant in a song focused on asking the Church what matters more, maintaining a certain tradition or truly loving our neighbors? His words are most powerful on the second verse, which says, “If I can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth, then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about. It looks like being hated for all the wrong things, like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings. Cause we can talk and debate till we’re blue in the face, about the language and tradition that He’s coming to save. And meanwhile we sit just like we don’t have give a shit about fifty thousand people who are dying today. Tell me, what matters more to you?” We can talk about Jesus and personal morality all we want, but if we’re not doing the work he’s called us to do, if we don’t even care about the fact that thousands are dying daily, we’ve missed the point.
The theme of the album as a whole is expressed clearly in “I Love/Hate You,” a love song to someone who is destroying the lover. This is Stockholm syndrome, a psychological condition in which hostages come to identify with and love their captors. The album presents several examples, such as “Becoming a Slave” which paints the picture of a culture that is enslaved to the status quo, unable to condemn the apparent evils of slavery and trying to cope by saying “It’s so easy, when they’re not like us.” Another song, “Jenna and Jimmy,” tells the story of a guy attending a political meeting and listening to a girl talk about social injustice and changing the world, pretending to care and agree just so he can end up in bed with her.
“Heaven” is a satire with a slight island sound added to the electronic mix, talking about a homeless man who dies and remains homeless in Heaven because “You only have what you came in with.” In this Heaven, Jesus rides in a bulletproof car, so that “Everyone is safe from the man who tells the Truth.” It makes you think, if the last will be first and the first will be last, why do so many of us put so much time and effort into being first in this life? Do we really believe in the picture of Heaven shown in this song? Have we put Jesus in a box to protect ourselves from his more uncomfortable teachings?
While the other songs have more thought-provoking things to say, I would have rearranged them and ended the album with “The State”/“The Proverbial Gun.” These two songs blend into each other to tell the full story of a man who “sold [his] conscience to the State.” It is the sad story of the Church throughout history: Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative. We sell-out to the State in exchange for a place of comfort and privilege, but as Jesus said, what good is it if we gain the whole world yet forfeit our souls? The second song is a slow acoustic guitar and passionate vocals with a constantly building keyboard swell as it presents a hopeful ending of this man’s story. Entering “The courtrooms of the mind” and knowing “I’m guilty as hell,” the ending may not be what you expect. “By the afternoon I’m out, out on the pavement walking, wreaking of salt and blood. No hat upon my head, no shoes upon my feet, picking your body from my teeth. No stars above me, no stripes upon me. Free.” May we all mentally free our consciences from the hold that the world has on them, knowing that in the end, we are accountable to God alone.
Overall: With perhaps his most drastic musical change so far, Derek Webb continues to show his versatility as a song-writer on Stockholm Syndrome. While many old time fans will not connect with this style as well, he does it surprisingly well and the final result is something that has eventually grown on me. Calling for the physical and spiritual liberation of those in bondage to any other than Christ, Webb angers both the captors and the hostages who have grown to love their captors, but this is the agitation that true prophets have always caused by calling for God’s people to give up their wickedness and idolatry and return to the Lord. You don’t have to instantly agree with everything Derek says. In fact, that would go against his call for spiritual discernment. But to ignore or reject such a helpful and important spiritual message because of a disagreement over a minor issue like language only shows that we really “don’t give a shit” about “what matters more.”